Like everyone, I wear multiple hats — mom, teacher, wife, caregiver to my mother, aerobics instructor, church member, and residential life staff for a boarding school, just to name a few.
And like everyone, the juggling and balancing sometimes makes me tired, stressed, and resentful. For years, I viewed the time/money/energy spent on one of these pursuits as time/money/energy denied the others. I was operating with finite resources and infinite demands in a zero-sum game. Either-Or. This or That. To do or NOT to do…these were the tough questions.
But the dichotomies were killing me…or at least my joy, because in a world of This or That, selecting one path meant deselecting all others. Two roads diverging in a wood…yada yada yada.
I wasted a lot of time and energy paralyzed with fear that if I made a choice, it would be the wrong one. And it wasn’t even the BIG choices (career, marriage, etc), I was stressing over most. Instead, it was my daily Work.
When the last child was finally asleep and I had a moment to breathe, what Work should I do with those precious minutes — the dishes? grade papers? work out? Could I squeeze in an actual conversation with my husband about something other than carpool and taxes? Which was more urgent? More important? I’d weigh my options carefully, frugally managing my meager resources…only to doze off on the sofa and lose those moments altogether.
This kind of thing happened all the time.
I was being pulled in multiple directions by competing components of my Work. When I focused on one, I felt I was neglecting another. While rocking a restless baby, I fretted over incomplete reports. When driving boarding students to get haircuts, I obsessed over chores.
Sartre was right; we are our choices. There is Work to be done, and there are choices to be made. However, I’ve come to feel that what matters most is often not the choice itself or the particulars of the Work. What matters most is my attitude about it.
Clarity came for me when I began to focus on the meaning of the Work, rather than the Work itself.
With this new view, choices morphed from frustrating Either-Or’s to opportunities for added value.
(I know this sounds a little Pollyanna-ish, but stick with me.)
Finding the meaning in Work clarifies its value. Once the value is clear, the Work seems more worthy of the investment of my time and effort. And as an added perk, investments pay dividends.
Helping a student learn to write well when he thought he couldn’t has value. There is meaning there, and it is worth my time. Plus, there are added dividends — like the fact that being a good teacher makes me a better mom. (The reverse is also true, by the way.)
Now that I am looking for it, I see this over and over. Being a caregiver for my mom makes me a better teacher. Being a better teacher opens up more opportunities to help in my faith community. Stronger ties to my community give my children a wider web of support. And so it goes.
I’m learning to see what each component of my Work — as long as it is meaningful — can add instead of focusing on what it costs.
I still live in a world of scarcity. There is much Work to be done. (My Ph.D. is unfinished — largely due to family interests — and my family’s laundry is also undone at present, largely due to research and grading. Oh, the irony…)
But finding the meaning in the Work, whatever the work might be, is the key. And this site is where I work it out in my own world.